I had the opportunity to play with a Google Prototype Cr-48 machine this week. By happenstance, I was introduced to it while I was sitting with my iPad propped up, working on it with a bluetooth keyboard. It quickly became apparent that I was sitting without doubt in front of the future of personal computing.
Admittedly, the Cr-48's ChromeOS and the iPad's iOS are both toddlers. They are cute, command your attention, and you forgive them for all the things they can't do yet. You don't get mad or impatient, nor do you legitimately try to compare them to “adult” operating system experiences. But make no mistake, those toddlers are going to grow up. It's unclear whether they'll grow up like twins or like Twins, but grow up they will.
If you want to experience ChromeOS and don't have access to a Cr-48, just download the Google Chrome browser, run it full-screen mode, and never leave. That's a pretty close approximation. Some of you will say “sure, I live only in the browser already” and others will gasp in horror at the prospect of giving up Adobe CS5, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, iTunes, and your favorite development IDE. My first inclination was to poo-poo ChromeOS, and wonder why people would want a browser environment that can't be exited. Why not just have the browser environment with all the power of a full OS underneath? But I'm increasingly convinced that Google would be fine with that too. ChromeOS is just an excuse to increase the pace of web-based application development. Google doesn't care if you use their OS, or their browser on someone else's OS, as long as your experience is mostly web-based, because on those seas Google divisions are the Armada and the Pirates.
Under the guidance of Apple's typically glacial but unstoppable taciturn innovation machine, the iPad is taking a decidedly different approach. Rather than the familiar browser ecosystem, the user is dropped into a totally unfamiliar, but uncannily intuitive world of touch-computing. Apple is years ahead in terms of offering a development environment conducive to natural touch computing. Apple is slow to broadly embrace the idea that all these apps will be powered through the cloud using web-based data exchange. But I suspect that will happen either way. What Apple has focused on is creating an experience that changes they way we interact with computers. By comparison, ChromeOS merely repackages the way we interact with computers today.
No matter what kind of adults these kids become, I couldn't be more excited to be a user, a developer, and an entrepreneur with the backdrop of this kind of change happening!